Photo: Chandra image of the elliptical galaxy NGC 4261 (X-ray: NASA/CXC/A. Zezas et al.; Optical: Pal.Obs. DSS)
An image of an elliptical galaxy by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has revealed a trail of black holes and neutron stars stretching more than fifty thousand light years across space. The trail of intense X-ray sources is evidence that this apparently sedate galaxy collided with another galaxy a few billion years ago.
"This discovery shows that X-ray observations may be the best way to identify the ancient remains of mergers between galaxies," said Lars Hernquist of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge (CfA), Massachusetts, and a coauthor on an article on the galaxy NGC 4261 in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. "It could be a significant tool for probing the origin of elliptical galaxies."
"From the optical and radio images, we knew something unusual was going on in the nucleus of this galaxy, but the real surprise turned out to be on the outer edges of the galaxy," said Andreas Zezas, also of CfA, and lead-author of the paper on NGC 4261. "Dozens of black holes and neutron stars were strung out across space like beads on a necklace."
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